Rampage 2017 is done and dusted. Your news feeds are probably crammed full of photos of Rampage Mountain, slow motion videos of the riders defying gravity, and all kinds of Utah mesa selfies. The media is hyper-focused on lines, athletes, Sorge's three-peat, crashes (of which there were few, thankfully) and the ever-critical subject of judging. While the event is undoubtedly the most intense week of our sport, it doesn't go down without some unsung heroes doing a lot of serious grunt work. The riders get the glory and the diggers get the credit, but what about the people that haul bikes to the top of that massive hill day in and day out? This Bud's for you, Bike Haulers.
Each year Red Bull's Student Brand Managers select about 30 students from their various networks within the Rocky Mountain region to join the massive undertaking in Virgin. This year they hail from Montana, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. While pushing a 30-something pound downhill bike up a nearly vertical mountain may not sound like much fun, to the Haulers it's a total dream come true. "It's really rewarding to be a part of this," says Jake McManigle of Denver, Colorado. "The (hiking) trail is not the nicest trail and there are some sketchy spots where I just think, 'I do not want to drop this bike right now!”
In spite of the challenge, the Haulers are likely the most stoked people on the hill. At any given point during the day, they can be seen breathlessly chatting up the riders while carrying their bikes overhead. They're constantly smiling and exchanging war stories about slipping on the trail - but saving the bike, or who they got to hike with on their last run up the hill. They form this awesome bond that carries over well past the event. Sam Heinrich of Boise, Idaho met McManigle at the event last year and the two became friends. On our hike to the top they were chatting about future plans after graduation. "Are you still planning to go to law school?" McManigle asks.
"Yeah. I think so," Heinrich replies. They've done this hike so many times that I'm practically sprinting to keep up. In fact, they each estimate that they'll do the top to bottom hike 20 times throughout their three days, which equates to about 40 miles of challenging hiking, half of it while carrying a bike.
Red Bull has had a variation of this program in place since the first Rampage in 2001, and has a perfect record: no dropped bikes and no Haulers have been taken out by a rider. That may seem like an obvious goal, but on any given practice day walking around the mountain is akin to playing extreme Frogger. The Haulers see their work as way more than just a physical assist. "Those times when you're by yourself and have to get the bike through a technical section is really challenging," Heinrich says, "but the adrenaline rush of not dropping your favorite rider's bike off a cliff is nice." Their work doesn't go unnoticed either. The athletes are quick to show their gratitude. "The riders are the nicest people. They always say thank you, and give us high fives," says McManigle.
What started out as a means to help level the playing field for the athletes has turned into something coveted by this group of dedicated mountain bikers. Each are avid riders, and each have a deep love for Rampage. They also have the benefit of being the closest to the riders throughout practice and on the day of the event. The rewards from this are memories that will be talked about for years to come. "On the last day of practice last year, I was hauling for James Doerfling and I was taking his bike up a new route," recalls Heinrich. "It was that perfect time at sunset and he was getting his bike up to this little ledge and I got to see him ride a new section. It was gnarly. I think it was the first time that the big front chute was ever ridden, and standing next to him and watching him while he was doing that for the first time was pretty awesome."
For super fans like McManigle and Heinrich, there is no better place to be front and center with their riding heroes and get an up close and personal look at the course. Just in case there was any doubt about how challenging the terrain actually is, both Haulers laugh when asked if they could ride down the hill. "Um…no. It's incomprehensibly big, like 10 times bigger than it looks on TV" says McManigle.
"I would like to think I could, but that would be awfully presumptuous," answers Heinrich. "When you’re actually there and you look at the lines and the lips it just looks like the jumps go off into nothing. They're sending it to the moon." To the moon, to the dirt, or to the top of the podium, one thing is certain - the Haulers are a crucial cogs in the wheel of Rampage.